These profiles are a great opportunity to get to know artists that you may or may not be familiar with. Furthermore, these artists may be only somewhat related to metal (usually by association). Today we have a special treat in store with multi-instrumentalist Kelly Moran. Moran has just released her fourth full length album, Optimist, an expansive journey into what can be done with piano, synth and atmosphere. Optimist is solely from her own making, making all successes wholly attributable to Moran herself. We recently had the opportunity to ask Moran our set of profile questions so read on to find out more about this extremely talented artist.
How did you first get into playing music and have you achieved the level of success that you always hoped to achieve?
I first started playing piano when I was six years old – I saw someone playing piano on TV and asked my parents to get me one. They bought me a little digital keyboard at first just to be sure I was serious, and I took to it really quickly. After that, I started studying piano really seriously and also learned how to play string and electric bass, clarinet, oboe, and guitar. By the time I was 15, I had started using Logic to make audio collages and became obsessed with electronic music. I was encouraged to just focus on piano so that I could study classical performance in college, but my interests were too diverse to commit to one thing, so I chose a major that let me study composition and music production, in addition to piano performance.
I have an endless list of things I want to accomplish musically, so it will be interesting to see where I’m at in a few years from now that I’m fully on my own and not playing regularly in any other bands. At this point I’ve fulfilled a major life goal of mine, which is to make my living playing music and doing nothing else. But there are a lot of things I want to do – I don’t know if I’ll ever be truly satisfied. Is anyone???
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get your band onto a show, into a magazine or otherwise promoted, covered, debased and praised? If you don’t have a story please tell us any embarrassing story.
Until now I’ve always been in bands where someone else took care of press. I remember when my last band got covered in Brooklyn Vegan we had all these commenters mocking us, so we all just joined in to keep the threads going and made stupid comments dissing ourselves using Longmont Potion Castle quotes. I think that’s kind of embarrassing, if not totally pointless.
What do you see as some of the great things happening in metal and what are some of the worst things happening inside the scene right now?
I think Colin Marston is one of the greatest things to happen to metal right now. Every single project he’s involved in is incredible to me, and I’m always in awe of how much music he creates. Even if you ignore his overwhelming production output for other bands, his personal musical output is astounding. His drive seems completely insatiable and the standards for all his bands – Dysrhythmia, Krallice, Gorguts, Behold…The Arctopus – is so high. All of those bands put out records this year! And he’s just one of the sweetest, most down to earth people ever. That kind of combination is very rare. He’s a gift.
I think the worst things happening in metal right now is the exclusion of women in many circles. I’ve heard stories of people not wanting women in their bands because it “ruins” the aesthetic, and it’s bullshit. It makes me really appreciate people like Weasel Walter who go out of their way to work with women, because they know women who can play are out there! Sometimes we’re just harder to find because we’re not as visible in male-dominated music scenes. It’s also been eye-opening seeing how certain music circles will forgive people who are abusive because they happen to be talented. I think there are enough talented artists out there that we can ignore the ones who intimidate and mistreat other people.
It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your music?
I don’t deliberately insert any political issues into my music, but being a woman who plays music automatically makes you aware of how differently you’re viewed from the ways in which people treat you. In school I struggled a lot because there weren’t a lot of composers who were women, so it was difficult feeling like I belonged and that my voice was taken seriously. A lot of my peers would make really sexist comments to me and most of the time it wasn’t even malicious or intentional. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to change the way women are perceived and treated in every single field of music. It’s disappointing that it’s 2016 and being a woman still makes you viewed as an anomaly where your abilities are put into question before you even play a single note. I’m a very outspoken feminist and believe the act of a woman making music is a kind of political act in itself since we live in a world where women are expected to be quiet and are often silenced for speaking out. We’re often made to feel ashamed for making our voices heard and taking up space, and I think performance and composition are ways for us to reclaim our space and assert our existence.
That being said, we’re living in a time where visibility isn’t enough anymore. Action is necessary. We just elected a president with people in his administration who want to take away women’s autonomy over their own bodies, and we need to fight them in every single way we can. Right now is not the time to be complacent. Protesting, making calls to lawmakers, and openly speaking out about the injustices we’re facing as a society are crucial actions of political resistance.
What, or who, got you into music, particularly the heavier, more alternative stuff, and how old were you? How did your family take the news?
I grew up listening to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin thanks to my dad, so getting into heavier stuff felt pretty natural. When I was a freshman in high school I befriended all the older musicians and they turned me on to bands like Tool and Voivod, so it kind of snowballed from there. I remember the first time I went to go see Tool in concert my dad insisted on coming with me because he was afraid someone would “smash a beer bottle” over my head. I don’t know why he thought that would happen but needless to say I survived the show without any injuries.
I started getting into various iterations of black metal in graduate school from a close friend’s recommendation, and it really amazed me how much the genre shared in common with certain kinds of minimalist music. I had been doing a lot of theory analysis on pieces by John Adams, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of their music when I’d listen to black metal. How can any music academic listen to a tremolo guitar playing some catchy, tonal melody with repeated notes and not instantly think of minimalism? The steady pulse, adherence to tonality, and overlapping patterns… I truly think if you orchestrated a band like Mgla for piano, it would sound a lot like Steve Reich. I often think about what the scores would look like if someone transcribed bands like Burzum, Krallice, or Drudkh; they would probably look very post-minimalist.
What’s the stickiest you have ever been?
I’m going to sound like a tool saying this, but I occasionally do art modeling for a close friend who’s a very talented photographer. I did a shoot with her over the summer where she dumped a mixture of corn syrup and food dye on me and had me roll around on the floor of her studio. Nothing will ever top that experience. I had to take three showers afterwards.
What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a hard-working musician?
This is tricky. I think using some semblance of formal analysis can be helpful for understanding the intent of what a musician creates and respecting the work they’ve done. Asking yourself questions like “What is being done? How well is it being done? Did the artist accomplish their goal?” In my opinion, it’s always good to put things in context in terms of what that specific work is trying to say and keeping that in mind while you’re writing about it, especially since so much music criticism is projection. Do everything you can to get to the core of what the artist is communicating (talk to them if you can!), and then form your own opinion on how successful they were at executing that goal.
I’m also personally more interested in reading about experiential feedback and what an album evokes from a listener, rather than reading about whether a writer liked it or not. In general, I’m uncomfortable with placing value judgements on art and assigning numerical ratings for music, so I don’t really care for reviews that do that – I feel it can devalue a work. I enjoy reading reviews that describe what the emotional response to the work was and what kind of listening experience the album creates for the listener. I also think reviewers should give records multiple listens before writing a review. I think all of those things can help writers better serve the work artists put their hearts into creating!
What’s your goal? Have you contemplated world domination? Maybe saving a continent? Maybe invading one? Any interest in starting a cult? Do you have day jobs or hobbies you want to share? Whatever it is, please let us know.
My political views lean towards socialism, so I definitely don’t care for world domination. My goal is to make records for as long as I live. I’m lucky that I can record and produce my own music so I just want to keep pushing my compositional boundaries and see how my voice evolves. Making things is the most important thing to me, everything else is secondary. I’d love to write for larger ensembles in the future, and also eventually have a living space that could fit my grand piano inside of it. My productivity would increase greatly if I didn’t have to go to my parents’ house to record on my piano, it feels like I’m in a long-distance relationship with my instrument.
Finally, when you’re not listening to, writing or playing metal, what are some of you favorite albums to listen to currently?
I’ve been listening to hip hop more than any other genre this year, even more so than metal. There’s so many great things happening there right now, both talent and production-wise. I’ll listen to anything Metro Boomin puts out – I think he’s an absolute genius and his arrangements are always super thoughtful and impressive. His work on 21 Savage and Future’s records this year stood out to me. I also really love Travis Scott – recently, I’ve been obsessed with his mixtape Days Before Rodeo. The sonic elements he combines in his songs are absolutely unreal to me. I also really loved JEFFERY by Young Thug, he’s pushing so many boundaries as an artist and his music is really invigorating. Other than those, I recently got into Empress Of and completely fell in love with her voice and unique production style. The Porches album Pool was also a real standout for me in 2016. Just totally brilliant songwriting and synth orchestration.
Thanks to Kelly for her time!